• 2021.03.04
  • A second lockdown
We’ve had increasingly strict emergency restrictions due to the pandemic since January, and each time they get more complicated—both in wording and content. Put simply though, we’re back to lockdown.

Before mid-January, when other European countries had already closed their schools, Portugal continued to offer in-person instruction. In his speech at the end of 2020, Prime Minister António Costa announced that when it came to education, we had to avoid going back to the situation we were in during the State of Emergency Declaration in March.
During the March lockdown, every school made use of learning programs linked to public television, which gave them a fantastic arsenal of ready-to-use tools. Still, parental support was essential for young children, which soon led to a dramatic gap in their ability to learn based on whether or not that support was available.

On January 21, we went to the school to pick up a digital equipment package that had been delivered for kids—containing a laptop, a portable WiFi device, a headset with a mic, and a backpack. They were provided to low-income kids as part of a national program.
It was an elegant solution on the part of the Portuguese government.
(Technically speaking, they’re loaning the kids the equipment. The system allows them to upgrade to computers with better features when they go to the next grade level.)

As part of the online learning package, the computers are set up with Google Classroom and an account prepared by the school. Students can download games they’re interested in, and the mics and sound work perfectly. The screens are also nice and big.
Just when we thought that schools would resume their online learning, the Council of Ministers decided on the 21st to close them for fifteen days—and subtract those days from the Easter holiday.

Digital equipment package

Even if they wanted to enjoy themselves, it’s not like the kids can go anywhere. They can’t play with their friends, and they can’t even go outside because it’s always raining. Just when my head started spinning at the idea of having to babysit my zombie kids as they wandered around the house glued to what is surely the next most important thing in their lives—their smartphones and tablets—, the days ended up going by surprisingly quickly.
The kids are back to taking classes online, using their new digital equipment packages.

(Fifth- and eighth-grade schedules)

Unlike before, the current online classes maintain the same periods as the regular class schedule. The curriculum continues to be linked to the educational programs provided by public television, but children are no longer required to watch them. They have to sit in front of the screen, attendance is taken, and class is held as usual. They also have to do homework when they’re not online and upload it using the internet. They’re allowed to turn off their mics, so they can sing and nobody will ever know—but they’re warned if they turn off their cameras. They started making excuses that they didn’t get the assignments or weren’t able to upload their homework in order to avoid studying, but eventually they faced strict reprimand for these tactics.

They even have gym class to maintain their physical health, to the point that my son gets out of breath doing challenging strength exercises.

There’s something else that impressed me, too.
On the first day of online class, I noticed several students looking into their screens wearing masks.
A meddling student piped up. “Martin, we’re online. You don’t have to wear your mask.” When I started laughing along with the other students, thinking that the pandemic had gone on for so long that the kids were starting to lose touch with reality, we realized that the students with masks were those who didn’t have any devices to attend online and had gone to school to use the computers there. The school had really thought things through.
It’s amazing how much thought and creative effort they’ve put into making sure that everyone has a fair shot at getting an education.
Portugal may be a tiny country, but it’s really doing its best.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

View a list of Megumi Ota's

What's New


What's New